In several debates with liberals, I have challenged them to produce any evidence of Barack Obama having run anything but his mouth. I maintained that he had no executive experience. The liberals countered by insisting that Obama had executive experience by virtue of having run his campaign for president. I responded that surely they couldn’t be serious. Obama doesn’t run his presidential campaign. His campaign manager and staff do. So the liberals took the fallback position. Obama’s work as a community organizer provided him with that elusive executive experience.
As it turns out, there was a kernal of truth in their last point of contention. Obama did indeed gain some executive experience, but not so much in community organizing as in the financing of it. This information has recently come to light thanks to the efforts of various researchers to obtain the release of Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) documents from the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Once the documents were finally made available, the first to examine them was Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Dr. Kurtz has reported his initial findings in an article written for the Wall Street Journal. According to Kurtz:
The CAC was the brainchild of Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground in the 1960s. Among other feats, Mr. Ayers and his cohorts bombed the Pentagon, and he has never expressed regret for his actions. Barack Obama’s first run for the Illinois State Senate was launched at a 1995 gathering at Mr. Ayers’s home.
The Obama campaign has struggled to downplay that association. Last April, Sen. Obama dismissed Mr. Ayers as just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” and “not somebody who I exchange ideas with on a regular basis.” Yet documents in the CAC archives make clear that Mr. Ayers and Mr. Obama were partners in the CAC.
So what was the CAC? Kurtz explains:
The Chicago Annenberg Challenge was created ostensibly to improve Chicago’s public schools. The funding came from a national education initiative by Ambassador Walter Annenberg. In early 1995, Mr. Obama was appointed the first chairman of the board, which handled fiscal matters. Mr. Ayers co-chaired the foundation’s other key body, the “Collaborative,” which shaped education policy.
Why was Barack Obama, the ink barely dry on his law degree, chosen to head up a foundation with millions of dollars to disperse? Kurtz asked this question of the Obama campaign, and this was their answer:
Ayers had nothing to do with Obama’s recruitment to the Board. Barack Obama was encouraged to run for Chair by Deborah Leff, with whom he served on another board, recommended by Pat Graham, and elected by the bipartisan founding board members: Susan Crown, Pat Graham, Stanley Ikenberry, Ray Romero, Arnold Weber, and Wanda White.
But Kurtz has reason to believe that Ayers was more involved in the decision to hire the budding young lawyer than the Obama campaign is willing to admit:
So when CAC’s own evaluators call 1995 the period of the “Founder-Led Foundation,” they are essentially saying that, in 1995, Ayers was the most powerful individual at CAC. The Obama campaign treats that suggestion as “absurd,” yet it is effectively made by CAC’s own evaluators. This needs to be kept in mind when considering the Obama campaign’s minimization of the Ayers-Obama connection that year. Ayers’s outsized role at CAC also needs to be kept in mind when considering the Obama camp’s claim that Deborah Leff and Patricia Graham first suggested Obama’s name as board chair. Given the degree of Ayers’s power at this early stage, it’s hard to believe that the ultimate decision on Obama’s elevation to the board was not made by Ayers himself. After all, Ayers and his immediate ally, Michael Klonsky, would end up seeking major financial support from CAC for their own “Small Schools” network. Ayers could not have been indifferent to the choice of board chair, since his own funding, and that of his many allies, would depend on it.
Other than the natural association that existed between Ayers and Obama in the running of a charitable foundation to advance the cause of education for Chicago’s disadvantaged, what’s the issue? According to Kurtz, the issue is radicalism:
Ayers and Obama guided CAC money to community organizers, like ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and the Developing Communities Project (Part of the Gamaliel Foundation network), groups self-consciously working in the radical tradition of Saul Alinsky. Walter Annenberg’s personal politics don’t change that one iota.
The fact that Ayers and other tenured radicals hold power at our universities is in no way negated by the presence of Republican appointees on university boards of trustees. Ayers’s radicalism is undeniable. He remains unapologetic for his bombings of the 1960s. Even now, he refuses to rule out violence as a resort. His education writings are deeply politicized and filled with exhortations to “resist” America’s racist and oppressive social system. In 2006 — along with his wife and fellow former-terrorist, Bernardine Dohrn, and Jeff Jones — Ayers released, Sing A Battle Song, a collection of intensely radical writings from the Weather Underground. Ayers makes it clear in that book that, while he is embarrassed by some of the Weather Underground’s rhetoric, he still adheres to the same ideas. Beyond its strictly historical interest, Ayers and his co-editors make a point of hoping that their old writings would be “of use to new generations of militant activists and organizers.” By directing CAC funds to groups like ACORN and the Developing Communities Project of the Gamaliel Foundation, Ayers was supporting just such militant activists and organizers.
Radicalism notwithstanding, how effective was CAC in improving education for those it was established to help? Not very, according to Kurtz:
The Obama campaign notes that during the CAC years, achievement test scores improved markedly in the Chicago public schools. That’s true, but deeply misleading. The real source of improvement was the leadership of accountability-oriented Chicago Public School (CPS) CEO, Paul Vallas, who began to reform CPS in 1995, the year of CAC’s founding. Vallas established clear standards, began high-stakes testing, ended social promotion, forced thousands of students to attend summer school to advance a grade, and put failing schools on probation. That’s what pushed up Chicago test scores. CAC’s own final evaluation carefully compared students at schools with Annenberg projects and schools without. According to CAC’s own report: “There were no statistically significant differences in student achievement between Annenberg schools and demographically similar non-Annenberg schools. This indicates that there was no Annenberg effect on achievement.” It also indicates that Annenberg failed, not because it’s altogether impossible to improve urban schools, but because CAC’s heavily politicized community-organizer partners weren’t any good at doing so.
So what’s the bottom line? Kurtz sums it up:
The Chicago Annenberg Challenge stands as Barack Obama’s most important executive experience to date. By its own account, CAC was a largely a failure. And a series of critical evaluations point to reasons for that failure, including a poor strategy, to which the foundation over-committed in 1995, and over-reliance on community organizers with insufficient education expertise. The failure of CAC thus raises entirely legitimate questions, both about Obama’s competence, his alliances with radical community organizers, and about Ayers’s continuing influence over CAC and its board, headed by Obama. Above all, by continuing to fund Ayers’s personal projects, and those of his political-educational allies, Obama was lending moral and material support to Ayers’s profoundly radical efforts. Ayers’s terrorist history aside, that makes the Ayers-Obama relationship a perfectly legitimate issue in this campaign.
Small wonder, then, that when Obama supporters are challenged to show evidence of their candidate’s executive experience and leadership abilities, they invariably cite the more general area of “community organizing” rather than the specifics of Obama’s years with CAC. To call attention to what he did, what groups he worked with and who was the founder and person in charge of the foundation would shine a light on Obama’s association with an unrepentant domestic terrorist and the radical causes they collaborated to enable. This is an association the Obama campaign is working overtime to try to downplay.
They don’t want to see TV ads from the McCain campaign which end with the words, just before McCain says who he is and that he approved this message, “Obama – too radical to trust with the presidency.”